How to Improve Your Workaway Profile: An Interview With a Workaway Host

Kathi & Gerald in the barn at Milchmäderl
[Kathi and Gerald with one of their sheep. Courtesy of Milchmäderl’s website.]
This is an interview with Kathi, a Workaway host. She and her partner, Gerald, own their own organic sheep farm: Milchmäderl. They produce various cheeses, like ricotta, Camembert, feta, halloumi, soft cheese (kinda like cream cheese), and hard cheese (like Pecorino). They started their farm about an hour west of Vienna in 2017. You can read more of their story below, or follow them on Instagram!

Workaway is a platform that connects people who want to volunteer with hosts all around the world. You can do almost anything on Workaway – opportunities vary and can include nannying, farm work, construction, web design, and more! Most of the time, you do not get paid with Workaway as it is purely a volunteer/cultural exchange experience, although there are some opportunities where you do. Normally, you volunteer about 25 hours/week in exchange for housing and food, but it does vary on the host.

Workaway costs about $42 for an individual or $54 for a couple account each year. So, it is not a large monetary cost, either.

I wanted to interview Kathi as I felt it might be helpful for other Workawayers to read what she looks for as a Workaway host. This can help you tailor your Workaway profile to meet the host’s needs. Here’s what she had to say!

Sheep Running Through the Pasture on the Sheep Farm Milchmäderl, a Sheep Farm that Sells Organic Cheese in Austria
[Happy sheep running through the pasture]
Disclaimer: This is, of course, her personal opinion and may not reflect that of other hosts.

INTERVIEW WITH KATHI, A WORKAWAY HOST

Interview with Workaway Hosts Kathi & Gerald of the Milchmäderl Sheep Farm & Cheese Production Business
[Kathi & Gerald from Milchmäderl]

WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR IN A WORKAWAY PROFILE?

There should be a few details about the person or their life and what they’ve done before. Where do they like to spend their time if they’re not on Workaway? What is their job?

Sometimes people don’t have a lot on their profile. For example, I’ve read some that just say, “Hey I’m a student and I’m currently traveling” and I find that doesn’t give you a complete picture of the person. I’m always looking for whether or not the person is animal friendly, especially if they’re dog friendly (Author’s note: they have a dog, Fridolin!).

So basically write things that you find interesting, and that make you an interesting person. Things that not everyone has done before or that make you unique. It could be that I’m looking for similarities, because one time I got an inquiry from someone that said they studied fashion, and I also studied fashion so I got excited.

The pictures are often the deciding factor because they show a lot about the person. For example, some people would only have one picture with sunglasses and a hat on, and yeah, they look cool, but I like to see a little bit of them with friends or nature. I feel like that tells me more of the vibe of a person.

I like when they have pictures that match what they say they like to do in their profile. That way you’re not just saying it – you have actual proof.

I would recommend filling out all the sections. Put at least some skills, even if you don’t have any – just mention you are willing to learn. I mainly just look for a willingness to do something. Someone that applied before said they’d been studying and didn’t have any manual skills but they were interested in trying gardening, working with animals, etc. That was fine!

Kathi, a Workaway Host, & Fridolin
[Kathi & Fridolin – aren’t they the coolest!]

WHAT KEY ATTRIBUTES ARE YOU SPECIFICALLY LOOKING FOR?

I would look for a person who is friendly, uncomplicated, easy going, and who likes to be outdoors, because I feel like people that like to be outdoors and in nature are always really nice people. I always look for people who are uncomplicated. For example, some people apply who are vegan or lactose intolerant and I feel like that’s not the best match for a dairy farm. They’ll say they can prepare their own meals, but that’s not what I look for because I want that sense of community. I want to eat together and share stories because I feel like that’s always nice to do while sharing a meal. (Author’s Note: Of course, each host is different and some may not care about your dietary preferences.)

I think it’s good if people post multiple photos. I like when at least one photo shows their face, or a funny picture, or funny pose so you can see their personality. Some people have pictures with other Workawayers or from places they worked before, and I think that’s a good idea.

Author’s Note: This was really interesting to me because I didn’t realize how much of a community aspect was involved. I just thought you should post pictures of yourself working hard and showing that you can do things, and didn’t really consider the importance of posting photos that showcase your personality. When I’m house sitting it’s not as much of a community thing since you meet the owner and then they leave. I totally forgot that with Workaway, you’re actually living with the people, so they want to make sure you’re someone that they might be able to get along with or be friends with during the time you’re there!

Kathi holding a lamb on the sheep farm, Milchmäderl Kathi holding a lamb on the sheep farm, Milchmäderl

WHAT SHOULDN’T YOU DO IN A WORKAWAY PROFILE?

No passport photos! They creep me out a little and look too serious.

No one sentence description, because I feel like every person has more to say than “This is me, I’m traveling”.

I’m also looking for the dietary aspect, but if you have allergies definitely put it on there, don’t hide them.

I also find things like special talents or random tidbits funny.

Sheep in the Barn at Milchmäderl, a Sheep Farm That Produces Organic Cheese in Austria
[They’re always watching]

WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR IN A MESSAGE FROM A WORKAWAYER?

The message should not be a copy of the profile text, because then I see the message, click it, and the profile is exactly the same. I know it’s more effort to write the message and profile, but it seems a little lazy if you just copy it.

The message should be more than just, “Hi, this is me, I’m traveling, can I come?” It shouldn’t be too short, and should have a little more about who you are, why you want to come, and what made you choose to send me a message.

I’m not looking for CV’s or grades from high school. (Author’s Note: Yes, she said people have actually applied with that!) It doesn’t need to be too formal, for example, “Dear Miss Dairy Production Farmer”. That weirds me out and makes me feel old.

If you have experience, I would write it in the message. If you have no experience I would also write it in there and say you’re open for everything!

Adding details, including pet names, are important. If somebody mentions “I love dogs, and I would like to play with your dog” this person has really good chances to come! If you mention other specific things, like the sheep or that you don’t mind getting up early, it makes it clear you had read our profile thought about what your life here could look like.

(Author’s Note: You should also pay attention to the “Minimum Stay Requested” listed on a host’s profile and tailor your message to that. You can find this above the availability ‘calendar’ on a host’s profile. For example, if their min stay is listed as three weeks, don’t ask to come for one!)

I personally don’t want to Skype, video chat, or talk on the phone beforehand, because I don’t like to talk on the phone or need to see people on Skype before they come here. (Author’s Note: Again, every host is different – if I were a host, I feel like I would want to beforehand!) It makes someone seem too eager if they give out their phone number or Skype name in the first message and ask to set up a meeting, that just sounds exhausting to me.

Offering to Skype is ok, saying we need to Skype is weird to me.

Kathi Herding the Sheep in From the Pasture at Milchmäderl, a Sheep Farm that Produces Organic Cheese in Austria
[Kathi herding the sheep back to the barn]

ONCE SOMEONE IS THERE, HOW CAN THEY BE A GOOD WORKAWAYER?

We’ve never had problems with anyone from Workaway. (Author’s Note: They’ve hosted over 20 people since they started in 2017!) If you’ve never been on a farm before, or even if you have, it’s good to keep asking questions. If there’s anything you feel unsure about, like something that someone told you to do, just ask them again. It doesn’t really matter because people are happy to explain it again before something bad happens.

Also, try to be part of the family or the place that you go to. I’m not too bothered by people that are hanging out with us all the time, in fact we enjoy it! (Author’s Note: “Not too bothered” is German speak for “We like it” lol; I found that when I did something good Germany/Austria, people tended to say “not bad” rather than “that’s great” like Americans would!)

Gerald Holding a Lamb in the barn at Milchmäderl, a Sheep Farm in Austria that Produces Cheese Gerald Holding a Lamb at Milchmäderl, a Sheep Farm in Austria that Produces Cheese

HOW IMPORTANT ARE REVIEWS?

Not important at all! For most of the people that came to our farm, it was their first Workaway experience. So I’m not looking for that. If somebody has good feedback, great, but if they don’t have any it’s not a big deal.

The Milchmäderl Cheese on a Supermarket Shelf
[Milchmäderl Cheese on the shelf in a local supermarket! It was cool to see things that they helped make in stores!]

DO YOU WISH PEOPLE ASKED A LOT OF QUESTIONS ABOUT THE SCHEDULE?

No. Also, people are always like, “Oh I’m arriving at this and this date” and it sometimes changes, but we’re so flexible it doesn’t really matter to us when someone comes or arrives.

3 Lambs at next to an ewe in the barn at Milchmäderl, a Sheep Farm that Produces Organic Cheese in Austria
[The lambs are the CUTEST; courtesy of Milchmäderl’s website]

WHAT MIGHT MAKE YOU CHOOSE ONE WORKAWAYER OVER ANOTHER?

In the summer time we get a lot of applications, especially if I turn on “Last Minute”. There are a lot of people who are more last minute and really flexible, but then there are people messaging me in February and asking if they can stay in September. This has never worked out so far. I always say they can come, but something always comes up, either with us or them.

So, for us it usually doesn’t make sense to plan Workaways so long ahead.

The View from the Window at Milchmäederl
[Countryside views]

WHAT DOES HAVING A WORKAWAYER BRING TO YOUR LIFE?

Help of course, but we’re also quite bound to the farm now. We can’t go traveling anywhere unless it’s winter (Author’s Note: This is when they don’t need to milk the sheep) so Workaway brings a good cultural exchange, and brings the world to our home.

It also makes the routine different every time somebody new comes. The routine itself stays the same for the most part, but you have to rethink things when you’re explaining them to people. When people ask questions like “Why do you do this?” you’re forced to ask yourself, “Why do I do it like this? Would it make sense to do it a different way?” It makes you question the way you do things and why.

We also get new recipes (Author’s Note: Kathi’s husband, Gerald, loves to cook!), and different views of the world and life in general.

WORKAWAY FARM QUESTIONS

Kathi Milking Sheep at Milchmäderl
[Kathi doing the milking]

WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO START A FARM?

Before Gerald and I studied agriculture, he did graphic design and I did fashion design. We worked in Vienna for a year and I always told Gerald I wanted to have a few sheep when we retired. We were both unhappy with our jobs and knew we didn’t want to live in the city forever. One day Gerald was like, “If we already know what we want, that we want sheep and to not live in the city, we should just work on that right now and not wait our whole lifetime to have what we want.” So then we decided to study agriculture, and got our Bachelor’s.

Then we began a Masters in livestock science, but we didn’t finish the Master’s thesis because we started it when we were already working. We thought we would finish it in winter, but then there was so much work in winter as well. And now it doesn’t really make a difference anymore.

Organic Sheep Cheese at Milchmäderl
[They make so many different types of cheese – Ricotta, Feta, Halloumi, Camembert, Pecorino, and more! Courtesy of Milchmäderl’s website.]

WHY DID YOU WANT YOUR FARM TO BE ORGANIC?

It’s the way of production that makes the most sense for us. We believe that it’s possible to have a farm and in an organic way without any artificial fertilizer.

It’s also a sign of quality for the customers, and that the animals are being treated well. So we thought that would make our cheese a more niche product, too.

Gerald Feeding the Sheep in the Barn at Milchmäderl with Hay
[Gerald giving the sheep some hay – most of their hay is from their own fields, so they manage it and know it’s not sprayed with any pesticides! Courtesy of Milchmäderl’s website.]

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO TREAT & CARE FOR THE SHEEP WELL?

We started the farm in order to be able to have the animals, so they are our main priority. Even if they have to stay in the barn in winter we try and make it as comfortable as we can for them. (Author’s Note: It’s often too cold in winter for the sheep to be outside, but they are out in the pasture every day that the weather is nice.)

We also give them the best quality food, because we know that without them we wouldn’t be able to produce any of our products. So, we try to care as best as we can for them because it was our own decision to have them.

Sheep drinking water from a sink in the barn at Milchmäderl The Sheep Barn at Milchmäderl has hay and sheep

WHY DID YOU PICK SHEEP OVER ANOTHER ANIMAL?

We both felt like cows are big animals, and I always feel like you have to grow up with a cow to be able to farm with them. They’re just so big and different to handle.

A lot of the barn systems for sheep are on straw and really easy. Sheep are herding animals and like to stay together, so if they’re outside they won’t jump a fence. If one of the sheep is running back inside the barn, the others will follow, so they’re quite easy to handle. Easier than goats as well.

Goat’s milk also tastes really different and has a really specific taste, so I didn’t want to produce anything that I’m not 100% in love with.

Sheep in the grass pasture at Milchmäderl, a sheep farm that produces cheese in Austria
[The sheep in the pasture]

WHAT IS THE MOST REWARDING PART OF RUNNING A FARM?

If you do physical labor or work with your hands, work outdoors, or even make cheese, it’s a lot of manual work and standing around. You create something, and you can physically look at the products you made.

I also love just being with the animals. If it’s a nice summer evening and the sheep are outside, and we are sitting at the pasture as well, there’s nothing better than that. Or if we have loads of lambs then we’re standing in the middle of them like, how did that happen?

Kathi Cutting & Packaging Cheese for Orders at Milchmäederl
[Kathi cutting & packaging cheese for orders. Kathi & Gerald do everything themselves, from taking care of the sheep, to making the cheese, to packaging the orders, to delivering the cheese!]

WHAT IS THE HARDEST PART OF RUNNING A FARM?

That you’re basically self employed, so we have a a lot of challenges that come with every self employment. We have to find our customers and make every decision ourselves. There’s no one who tells us what to do every day. This is positive but also a challenge if you’ve never done that before.

We had never done some of the farm work before, like making hay or even milking a sheep. Everything was new and that was quite a challenge, especially in the beginning. But the longer you do it the more rewarding it gets, because you find a routine and become more confident and since it’s all getting better with your experience.

WHAT DO YOU WISH YOU KNEW ABOUT RUNNING A FARM BEFOREHAND? WAS IT A LOT DIFFERENT THAN WHAT YOU’D THOUGHT?

I think we were a little naive as well, maybe, to start a project like this. I wouldn’t change it, how it is now, though. I think we needed to be a little naive to give us the confidence to do it. In the beginning everything was very different because the sheep didn’t know what it means to be milked, they didn’t know about the milking stand, so everything with the animals was very challenging. (Author’s Note: They had to train the sheep to learn where to go and stand at the milking stand, but while I was there it was like a well-oiled machine! The sheep also don’t mind the milking for the most part – they’re eating while being milked so they’re more concerned about the food!)

The work with the tractor would’ve been easier if we had known how it worked before.

We’ve also been to other farms and seen things how we didn’t want to do it, so that definitely helped. (Author’s Note: Kathi and Gerald worked on several other farms before starting their own, and Kathi also did an internship working with dairy cows and making ice cream on Iceland which is about the coolest thing ever!)

When we started this I knew it was self employment, but it took a while for me to actually realize that reality. We’re not farmers, we’re just self employed people who happen to have a farm.

I think we’re just growing with our challenges, and it’s only getting better.

The barn at Milchmäderl with sheep and pink windows during a sunset
[The barn’s windows turn a pretty pink-y purple when the sun sets]
I hope you enjoyed this interview with Kathi, and got more of an idea of what a Workaway host might be looking for in a profile or message. Good luck!

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